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Published: Friday, 2/14/2014 - Updated: 8 months ago

Sexual texts inquiry leads Rossford fire chief to retire

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Verbosky Verbosky
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Rossford fire Chief James Verbosky was told to resign, retire, or face termination after an investigation showed he had sent electronic messages of a sexual nature to a female firefighter in January.

He chose retirement.

Chief Verbosky, 48, submitted a letter Thursday stating he would retire March 31. His last day in service is March 14, Rossford Administrator Ed Ciecka said.

City officials said text messages were sent to a female firefighter who joined the department in November. The messaging, described as an “isolated” incident, took place and was reported to a supervisor in mid-January, and the city’s legal department, Mayor Neil Mac-Kinnon III, and Mr. Ciecka were alerted.

An investigation determined Chief Verbosky sent messages that were “inappropriate” but not illegal, Mr. Ciecka said.

Chief Verbosky called the situation an “unfortunate incident” and said he “made a mistake.”

“It was just basically an unfortunate misunderstanding,” he said.

Mr. MacKinnon said he told the chief in January he would have to leave his post, but he was given time to announce his exit. Mr. MacKinnon said he granted the extra months out of consideration for the chief’s long years of service, to allow time to find a successor, and because the woman who received the messages didn’t seek disciplinary action.

“I found it to be more vulgar than anything, and again my biggest concern was her. She made it very clear that she didn’t want this to be a big deal. She didn’t want to hurt his family. She didn’t want… to hurt his job,” Mr. MacKinnon said.

He found the conduct “unbecoming,” but said allowing the chief to retire was the “best decision” for those involved.

Mr. MacKinnon said Chief Verbosky was given a Friday deadline to submit a letter to the city.

On Wednesday night, an anonymous fax sent from the Rossford Fire Department alerted media outlets throughout northwest Ohio to the investigation. Mr. Ciecka said an unknown person went into the fire station after hours — without authorization — and used the city’s fax to notify news outlets.

That incident is under investigation, though Mr. Ciecka said it’s too early to say if the person who faxed the tip will face discipline. Mr. MacKinnon said the tipster’s action “wasn’t necessary.”

“I don’t know what type of person would do this to someone as they were walking out the door,” he said.

Chief Verbosky, who has been a member of the department since 1983, was appointed lieutenant in 1992 and became the chief in February, 1999, according to Mr. Ciecka. The post became a full-time position in 2001, and the chief’s current annual salary is $63,960.

He was suspended for five days last year after city officials said he falsified a patient transport report by signing the name of another firefighter on paperwork. Mr. MacKinnon said that incident appeared to be caused by “laziness” and not another motive.

The decision to allow the chief to wait until the end of March to retire will not affect his financial retirement benefits, the mayor said.

“I basically wanted to give him enough time to get his affairs in order and for me to find another chief,” he said.

Mr. MacKinnon said he has someone in mind for the position, but will wait to discuss it with city council members before announcing a successor.

“I want to see a fresh start and somebody that can come in right away and take care of the department,” he said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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